They called him "Shark Morsel." And with good reason. Todd DiCiurcio may have ripped, but he wasn't the biggest kid surfing Ocean City's NJ's 7th Street. Plus he was from Pennsylvania — a 'shoobie' — making him an easy target for jokes about getting chewed up. But over the past five years, Todd's been on the attack, slowly devouring the highly competitive NYC art scene. And on June 24, all that effort will finally come to fruition with his first Big Apple solo exhibition, backed by uber-patron Yvonne Force Villareal of Art Production Fund. Titled "Synthesis", it will feature bands, DJs, and a few celebrities, as it "represents the dialogue [he's] created between art and music."

That's right. Art. Music. But little surf. Rather than look to the ocean for his muse, over the years, DiCiurcio's built a reputation by painting bands on stage — acts like Guided By Voices, Wyclef Jean, Dinosaur Jr., . . .And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, even Bon Jovi. He's captured broadway favorites like "Sweeney Todd" and "In The Heights." And, in between, he's traveled the fashion and celebrity party circuit from Cannes to Hollywood with his wife Megan Erb DiCiurcio, who works for Dolce & Gabbana. And it's paid off, as in the past year, both Paper Magazine and Vanity Fair have profiled the 35-year-old. It's all part of a non-stop effort to stay creative and put his art on the map — even if it means he must sacrifice by living away way from the beach. Good thing Todd's used to it — his next show is reportedly set for 2009 in Saudi Arabia. We spoke with "the morsel" about his transition from tiny beach terror to future art world monster.

So how does a kid from Conshohocken, Pennsylvania become Ocean City's Shark Morsel?
Basically, I spent summers with my mother and family in Ocean City. I didn’t live there, but I thought I did. I was four-feet tall on my toes, but with a 6’4" sailor’s attitude. Plus I wore a grossly oversized red wetsuit everywhere, at all times. Some kid called me shark morsel and I hated the name – so of course it stuck.

Must be hard to be stuck in the city after so much time on the beach. Even for a shoobie.
Well, Ocean City is still home base for me outside of NYC. I grew up surfing 7th Street. That shop was where it all went down. It was a thrill to grow up surfing the same time as Danny Margagliano, Kevin Wahl, Mitch Leonard, Lance Miller, Matt Keenan and Dean Randazzo. I remember watching Dean get arrested for surfing during a hurricane in the 80s. The cops waited on the beach and we all cheered him on for the whole session. The only guy out — it was awesome! I don’t so much have a career in the surfing industry, but I have had various sponsors and supporters on many different levels over the years and Larry and Becky Friedel [7th Street's owners] have always been wonderful supporters of Megan and I.

How did art come into play?
As an only child, my mother nurtured the creative side of me — always supplying me with pencils, paints, paper, books, inspiration and just a magnificent, beautiful presence. I lost her when I was 15 to brain cancer. She had instilled drawing as a way for me to represent what was going on around me. At this point, my parents had been divorced seven years, and it wasn’t pretty. But I had this gift and learned things the hard way. It was the eighth wonder of the world that I was accepted to Kutztown University in Pennsylvania, because I barely attended high school. Art school was a complete eye-opener for me. I remember people dropping out on account of a scarring critique. But I reveled in it. I learned how to shape my ideas, execute them through my emotions, and escape. That’s what I’ve put into my life’s work now. it’s my way of creating. Whether you get it or not — I don’t care. I guess I'm completely commercially impaired.

Not completely. If I remember you had your run doing surfboard art in Florida. How did that happen?
Megan and I had just moved down after a work residency I had at Vermont Studio Center. I was painting out of a small studio apartment in Satellite Beach at the time. Mark Realty was across the street —we loved surfing there. Matt Kechele was one of the first people I met there and he asked if I knew how to airbrush. I hadn’t touched an airbrush in my entire life. Kech showed me how to do a fade and tape rails — that could not have been more boring to me. I told Kech I wanted to freehand paint on the boards. It was a great collaboration. Megan and I moved to a large studio in Micco on the Sebastian River where we lived for 5 years. We surfed Sebastian Inlet and/or Spanish House almost daily. During this time I had my first show in Philadelphia at a space called Gallery Siano, and did my first live drawing show in Orlando with Guided By Voices. We toured for months in our VW {{{Vanagon}}} with different bands and capturing these shows and environments: me on paper; Meg through photodocumentation. Having good progress in the studio at that point, I was interested in doing a solo show. I went to the Society Of The Four Arts in Palm Beach to present my work, and their first suggestion was that the work was more New York than Florida.

Is that why you moved to New York?
We both knew Florida was somewhat of a cultural void. Like a black hole vacuum that stripped art of any social commentary, and made it just wallpaper. There was no scene, and I didn’t want to grow old trying to make one. We knew at that point that if we didn’t try to make it in NYC, we would never do it and just literally retire in Florida. No better place for it, I guess, but that’s not us.

DiCiurcio in action

Now, five years later, you've got your own show in NYC. What's it about? And who is involved?
It’s called ‘Synthesis' and it's an installation of the large paintings of the bands I’ve captured from life over 10 years integrated into a new living and breathing happening space called Santos' Party House. DJ Momjeans [Danny Masterson] is spinning along with Max Wowch [Wowch]. Yvonne Force Villareal and Doreen Remen of Art Production Fund are hosting the show along with my friend/supermodel/superhumanitarian Petra Nemcova of Happy Hearts Fund. Yvonne and I spoke about a her hosting a show during a studio visit about 2 years ago, and so here we finally are.

Sounds like you've met a few big-name celebs in the big apple.
Well, they are friends, family and inner circle more than celebrities. They are there to enjoy the vibe that is ours together as creators and collaborators. Petra is such a dear friend and supporter — I couldn’t see doing this show without her. I'm actually the Art Ambassador for Petra’s South America project with Happy Hearts Fund, documenting through drawings the relations and progress of three primary schools being built in earthquake devastated Peru.

A sample of DiCiurcio’s artwork

Obviously, you've met a few of these names through Megan's work with Dolce and Gabbana. But she's been a major part of your success from the beginning, right?
Megan's my everything. Her input is very important to how I move in this environment. It’s been a long creative adventure together since our childhood in Ocean City. Her instinct is on point with personalities, whereas I just tend to blindly move forward in my own adventure. The lifestyle of attending profile events, premieres, etc. and socializing has become a regular thing for us, and it’s truly a big part of Megan’s job. I don’t watch television or follow pop culture, so a lot of times I would meet Megan’s celebrity clients and have no idea who they were. This led to some engaging conversations and unexpected studio visits. When I met Michael Imperioli [of the Sopranos] I had no clue who he was — the next week I was drawing Guided By Voices for their last NYC show and he asked if he could come along. As it turned out, Bob Pollard (lead singer) is a huge Imperioli fan. We partied hard that night right into daylight all together. Super good times.

Now you don't do 'surf art' per se, but you still surf whenever possible. Would you say surfing influences your art at all?
Surfing is a truly spiritual experience for most people I think. I need surfing to show me what’s happening and bring clarity to the events of my life. At the same time, I become lost in the youthful bliss of just being in the water. Surfing equals Freedom. Freedom is the ultimate inspiration at the core of what I communicate through as an artist. Whether it’s death, enlightenment, politics, insanity, no matter. Surfing brings understanding and a sense of independence within a community. There are so many relative analogies, but one I like to apply regularly is that of timing. You have to understand timing in order to be in the most critical part of a wave, and before that, patience. Surfing will bring out confidence as well: there’s nothing like looking over a ten-foot shelf knowing that you’re going. It’s the same thing in life: timing involves being prepared, and when persistence meets opportunity, that’s good fortune, that’s the drop you make, the barrel you make it out of, and so on. You can also discover a lot about a new friend if they surf by just having a sesh with them. You can read personalities, in a way. It's like a physical and mental connection that brings all human senses to some other higher level. I just had to say that. Does this answer your question? Maybe not. But that's kind of like art, too.

Danny Masterson, Megan DiCiurcio, Todd DiCiurcio, Petra Nemcova in Cannes 2008